Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.
This week's Real Talk is dedicated to Uncanny Avengers #1, the first series in Marvel's NOW! initiative and a direct continuation of Avengers vs. X-Men, which is why we have our AvX crew– Shawn Hill, Chris Kiser and Jamil Scalese– reassembled here to offer their thoughts on the merits of this new series.
Chris Kiser: Just when I think I've reached the plateau of reader maturity at which Marvel vs. DC is no longer a meaningful debate about the comics art form, here comes Uncanny Avengers to drag me back to the days of those heated arguments with my fifth grade geek friends which pretty much assured that none of the girls in my class would ever want to kiss any of us on the playground. Even casting aside the obvious cause-and-effect of the whole thing, it's essentially impossible to talk about Marvel NOW! without comparing it to the New 52, and I'm pretty sure Marvel is perfectly okay with that. That's because even though both major relaunch initiatives from comics' Big Two kicked off with a high-profile team book illustrated by one of the industry's hottest commodities, the quality gap between the two debuts couldn't be wider.
Whereas DC got the money-making (read: selling marginally better than before) party started by jettisoning much of its 70-year history and infantilizing its most beloved characters, Marvel treats the first of its many upcoming #1's as simply the next phase of the ongoing chronicle of its shared universe. In Uncanny Avengers, Captain America and Wolverine haven't been reduced to bickering schoolboys, nor do they run around spouting one-liners that sound like they were written by folks of similarly stunted development. No, the characters of Marvel NOW! so far seem more like their old selves than did The New 52's first renditions of Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a quality comic book. After all, "better than Justice League" isn't exactly a top ten entry on the list of most meaningful phrases ever uttered.
It's pretty clear that Uncanny Avengers #1 is going to help Marvel win the opening salvo of its relaunch counteroffensive, but does this tale of lobotomization and grave robbery achieve anything more? After six harrowing months of issue-by-issue analysis of Avengers vs. X-Men, who's better qualified to answer that question than me and my staunch allies here at Comics Bulletin — Jamil "Scalpel" Scalese and Shawn "Professor X's Brain" Hill?
Jamil Scalese: Here we are again. It's kind of like a hidden bonus track on your favorite album.
Marvel NOW! is something between a response to The New 52 and a retort. It's almost like Marvel scoffs at DC's recent universal upheaval and says "Watch us do it better!" In my opinion, from what I've read as far as previews, interviews and this first issue of the newest Avengers squad, Marvel's titles are slathered in far more interest and ingenuity than most anything DC cooked up last summer. Somehow, year after year, they manage to keep me at least partly cognizant to their lineup, and this new season it has me straight giddy.
High-action Captain America? I'm there. Reverse "Days of Future Past" for the X-Men? Can't resist. Banner is done being a wimp? Finally! In concept and creative teams, I love a lot of what's happening NOW! at Marvel. I really think they are putting more concentration on letting creators create. Fans have been clamoring for more adventurous comics, and I'm going to stand up for my favorite brand and say Marvel is taking a progressive step forward to artistic prosperity with the newest rollout.
Case in point: this book's creative team, specifically its writer. Rick Remender is not an "Architect", and did not write any of AvX save for a Secret Avengers tie-in. Yet Marvel bypassed "succession" and went directly with the most deserving candidate for the bellwether title of their new marketing campaign. Simply, Remender's work on the soon-concluding Uncanny X-Force is transcendent. Fans and critics love it, and it sells damn well for a fringe X-book among 5-7 other fringe X-books. This is built like that book, and it's got me licking my chops for more.
Shawn Hill: I always knew that bastard Red Skull was a Nazi grave robber, but c'mon. Poor Avalanche! Cassaday did his best to make this issue look like an errant Mars Attacks! treatment, but in between the gore we did get a decent look at a post "not enough mutants" world, with a solid reset focusing on the established metaphor of "mutants as wronged, misunderstood minority." Hey, if it worked for forty years…
Rick Remender never pulled any punches in Uncanny X-Force, and though the tone is far more stately and measured in this debut issue, he lets us in on his goals immediately here. The actual fisticuffs between Rogue and Wanda may be silly, but their divergent positions (as really, when you think of it, major players in two different generations of Evil Mutant Brotherhoods) are articulated pretty well. Rogue positions herself as the loyal outsider, wearing her otherness like a badge, while Wanda sneers at her pretension, believing that her years of assimilation with the Avengers have made a bigger difference than Rogue ever will.
It also returns to us a Wanda who's more than a deus ex machina, a plot device, a villain or a victim. She's a person with real lived in experience again, and I've been waiting a really long time for that.
Jamil: You should be absolutely giddy at the gills. Wanda is seeing full-time (non-MacGuffin) action for the first time since…2003?
Chris: Your undying love for all things Scarlet Witch brings up a good point, Shawn, in that it is not only natural to compare Uncanny Avengers to books in The New 52 but also to Marvel's own recent output itself. Remender and Cassaday seem to directly answer all the many criticisms thoughtful readers had of Avengers vs. X-Men, a
seriously flawed endeavor that the three of us all kinda liked nonetheless. Underwriting mediocrity — you're looking at the face of every problem with comics right here, folks!
Setting aside the fact that, yes, this issue did once again feature an Avenger versus an X-Man (Facepalm!), Remender does give a more careful consideration of the themes that undergird the story he's telling than did the Architects with theirs. This is a world where, just a few weeks ago, some crazy mutant just used his powers to flood a whole country, only to be immediately one-upped by another who used his to set the entire Earth on fire. It's fair to say that Captain America and Havok have a bit of an uphill climb in their efforts to unite humanity and mutantkind for a big, worldwide remix of "Ebony and Ivory," and they'll have to do it while fighting off a villain who's so determined to pervert Professor Xavier's dream that he's planning on using the man's own autopsied brain as a literal weapon to that end.
Jamil: I detailed it during our early reviews of AvX, but the whole mutant-as-minority thing wore thin on me somewhere around my fifteenth birthday. Playing victim, in fiction or in real-life, has never smoothed over well with me, and while I understand prejudice is bigger than people hating on you, and can lead to very real and violent results, the X-Men's whining– spearheaded by Cyclops in the last couple decades– is not my cup of tea.
So I have a little bit of a disconnect with the overarching premise here, although I love the proactive nature of the book. Even though it didn't really evolve well in AvX, I am a big fan of the Captain's simple but new stance — the Avengers support mutants and will go to lengths to incorporate them in their ranks and protect them when needed. For one, it helps with Marvel's master agenda to bring the X-Men closer to the core, and specifically, it gives Cap a position on the whole thing, building a relationship between two of the company's strongest franchises (has there ever been a notable Captain America/Mutant crossover?)
Shawn: Avengers #16 (v.1): Cap's been reaching out to mutants almost since he was re-awakened. And he was recently the Super Soldier helping Hope fight some aliens (prior to AvX by about a year). He's got their backs.
Chris: I think the mutant metaphor still has staying power, and I'm glad to see the concept return closer to its core here. The whole mission of Utopia and the Extinction Team was rather impenetrable to someone like me, who prefers to know exactly what opinion I'm supposed to have. "Racism is bad" is a clear moral to the story that soothes my soul and its fear of subtextual ambiguity.
Shawn: Sounds like you're more on board with the MLK approach to racism than the Malcolm X version, Chris. Cyclops has been in a whole "Black Panther" (not T'Challa) mode for a while; he's become a revolutionary rather than an assimilationist. I like how in this issue, Wanda shows how hard core assimilation can be as well.
Chris: If there's an aspect of Uncanny Avengers that left me cold, though, it's in its lack of an overall wow factor. Yes, the cliffhanger on the final page is quite creative, but up to that point, the feel of the book remains rather conventional. Both of you mentioned Uncanny X-Force as an example of Remender's impressive past work, and I don't think this new book has yet demonstrated any of the snap, crackle and pop with which that one debuted. Both there and in Secret Avengers, Remender quickly won me over with a stylish sense of humor that rarely missed a beat. Aside from a Thor line about lattes that's only actually funny because it shows up in Gaelic font, there's nothing to make you laugh here.
Of course, much of that could simply be Remender remaining true to the subject matter at hand, which calls for a somber tone. This is a comic that features Wolverine eulogizing the man who was basically a father to him, and it goes from there to show the contentious Summers brothers having a heart-to-heart across the divide of prison walls. Neither of which is exactly the time to have Fantomex burst in and start cracking jokes, I'll concede.
Jamil: The comic does lack that certain "Remender fun factor", but I think it's attributed in part to the dénouement of Avengers vs. X-Men, and some stage setting. The team was already established at the beginning of X-Force, their origin a bit more manufactured, this one more organic. So while I'm not totally down for trading "morally-confused assassin crew" for "co-racial heavy-hitting peace brigade" it's a much more approachable and rich sandbox. I mean, look at the cover's lineup: six great characters, and they all get a decent amount of focus. The balance of the cast is tight, efficient and magical, although I think you address an important point: where is this book's comic relief? With no Deadpool or Fantomex and a decidedly somber Logan, there is a shortage of cut-ups.
Shawn: It moved too glacially to reach that madcap X-force pace; whether that's a case of seismic changes and their aftermath or Remender being cautious with his most high-profile gig yet remains to be seen. And it could also be a function of Cassaday's art, where any wow factor is often more about subtle changes of scale and surprise reveals of hidden plans than over-the-top action sequences. I do find a sense of humor in the book, at least of the knowing, satirical kind. Cassaday's Red Skull is a Halloween Joker mask, scary because he's so ridiculous.
I was very skeptical of Marvel NOW! because it seemed such an obvious response to DC's renovation; but if they're willing to rearrange their major players without taking the Brand New Day approach like this book avoids, I'm hopeful for the rest of the line.
Jamil: I'm not a huge John Cassaday fan, but I won't argue he's a top tier talent. Given that Remender has a noticeably more dark and sleazy story-telling preference, the final result carries a disjointed feeling. Cassaday is a little too clean and doe-eyed for Remender's brand of creep. But maybe that's a good thing? After all, this series is all about the forced meshing of two popular entities.
The one character I'm keeping my eye on is Havok, who is blindsided by an Avengers leadership position by Captain America. Havok represents the consummate little brother; he's been around since forever but is always forgotten, an afterthought to mutants with cooler power sets
. Cyclops' slightly more rebellious brother is now in the rare position in his life of being the most honorable member of his family. Remender admits he's a big Havok fan, and that's fine by me. I'm very excited to see how Alex commands this team in a pinch, and if Captain America will even allow him to lead. He's surrounded by huge figures, a majority have served as leaders elsewhere, and all carry multiple decorations from service in the daily grind of superheroism. Havok is no slouch, but he's clearly in the on-deck circle staring down the biggest at-bat of his life.
Shawn: Havok's served as a leader, too, of X-factor and in Mutant X and of the Starjammers most recently. I hope Remender doesn't forget that; with him already talking down to Scott for his mistakes, he doesn't seem to be starting Alex over at square one.
Chris: He's a bit like Remender himself, then, eh? A man who has achieved quite a bit on the periphery of his world now thrust into the biggest of the big time. Selling 300,000 copies is a pretty terrific start, but the burden of a flagship book is a heavy one to bear. Here's hoping that Remender's creativity still gets a chance to shine through, perhaps a bit more brightly than it did in issue #1.
Jamil: Agreed, and I think it will. The issue starts off a bit slow, but, man, those last four pages or so, totally what I expect from Remender. WTF is up with the Red Skull's new cronies? A giant sea-turtle and a chick with a bag of talking wind? I'm so hooked. Just like Xavier, this comic has me a bit out of my mind.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at@Chris_Kiser!
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.